Ever wonder about that sagging middle? Understanding structure helps to eliminate those worries. A little bit.
The set up is over. Now what? Well, if you’ve set up Act I the right way – plenty can happen.
Here’s how Blake Snyder in Save the Cat breaks it down.
B Story: (The A story or main thread has been established – we want something new! Often the love story and internal story.)
A Story – His dad is off trying to find the dragon’s nest, and Hiccup starts his dragon training with his peers. We get to know his friends and future allies.
B Story – Hiccup finds Night Fury and realizes the dragon is injured and can’t fly. The B Story is Hiccup’s developing relationship with Night Fury, but going deeper, it’s Hiccup’s story of figuring out who he is as a Viking.
Fun and Games: (According to Blake, this is the promise of the premise, the heart of the story, the stakes aren’t raised significantly. Fun.)
For me, this is Hiccup flirting with the dragon, gaining his trust, fixing his injury. His journey in “training a dragon”. Eventually, he flies Night Fury.
But I would also include his failed attempts at dragon training with his peers. But as he trains Night Fury through communication instead of violence, he is able to relate to the dragons in his training. And he becomes a hero among his peers. Plus we see his relationship developing with Astrid, the cute girl, who wants to be the best dragon killer.
Midpoint: (Stakes are raised, big twist, new direction.)
- Hiccup’s dad returns, learns that Hiccup is doing well but misunderstands and thinks Hiccup is actually killing the dragons. (A false win.)
- Hiccup wins first place in dragon training. (A false win.)
- And, Astrid discovers Night Fury, who Hiccup has named Toothless. Uh-oh!
Bad Guys Close in (Act II from the midpoint until Act III. The stakes are raised and the fun and games are over.)
When Hiccup’s dad returns, there’s no more pretending. He passes on to Hiccup a real Viking hat with horns. His dad is excited because now they can really talk – about killing dragons. And in the upcoming final exam, he can’t wait to see his son in action. (Great conflict!)
But before the final exam, Hiccup wins Astrid over to his side by giving her a ride on Toothless. The dragon takes them to the famed nest that the village has been in search of for hundreds of years. And they discover the real reason for the dragon raids: there is a monstrous dragon living in a mountain and he needs to be fed. Talk about a bad guy. (I loved watching Hiccup and Toothless win over Astrid!)
Push comes to shove and the final exam arrives. Hiccup announces to his dad and the village that they are wrong about dragons. (Talk about bravery! Hiccup is changing, folks!) He throws down his shield and spear. His dad is furious and scares the dragon, who becomes enraged and goes after Hiccup. Toothless hears Hiccup’s cries and comes to the rescue. Except Hiccup’s dad captures Toothless, and feeling the ultimate betrayal, throws Hiccup in a cell. Hiccup slips about the nest and the dad, enraged, disowns Hiccup.
All is Lost:
Astrid says it best. “You’ve lost everything.” And he had. His dad, Toothless, the respect of the village, his friends – he couldn’t feel any worse.
Dark Night of the Soul:
He didn’t think he could feel any worse until his dad chains Toothless to the ship to guide him to the dragon’s nest and sets sail with a fleet of ships. Hiccup watches them sail away. Helpless. He’s lost everything. And now he might really lose his dad too. (I love these moments! Anyone else a little sadistic?)
As writers though, we know that the best part is yet to come. And this movie followed structure with great success. The beginning hooked me but the ending made me a fan. But you’ll have to wait until next time! We’ll wrap it up with the final act.
Have you ever studied books for structure? Just curious.